IT was a protest of a different kind – marked with laughter and delight as people splashed in the water and surfed the waves.
Following a call to action by various groups, beaches from the Garden Route to Cape Town were occupied by groups of people in protest to the continued closure of beaches.
Groups were reported at Fish Hoek and Camps Bay, while as many as 250 people descended onto Muizenberg beach to swim, surf and enjoy the sun.
Protesters also descended on Plettenberg Bay beach, despite being met with a wire fence along the beachfront.
For surfer Benjamin de Castro, returning to the water after two-months felt “good,” he said. “It feels refreshing, like the first day I was here.”
A Muizenberg resident since the age of five, the 25-year-old said he had joined in the protest to take the beaches back. “We just came out here to make our feelings known,” he explained. “It’s been a while and we’re excited to be back. We just hope everything will go back to normal. Surfing reels in a lot of people and a good way to keep them from doing bad things. To be back in the water is a dream come true.”
Fellow protester Gavin Taylor echoed De Castro’s sentiments. “I was born and raised in this country, I have spent many happy years coming to this beach,” Taylor said. “I know that things are more under control where Covid-19 is concerned. The clamps that have been put on us at the moment are very unnecessary. The numbers are down, it would be fair enough to open for business and let people enjoy the beaches again.”
The protest was organised by several activist groups who circulated posters on social media. The groups included the Woke Nation, #EndTheLockdownSA, and South African United Voices (SAUV).
SAUV leader Clay Wilson said there were tears in his eyes when he saw the turnout at the beaches. “This is the first time my feet have touched the water this year,” he said. “What a sensation. The attitude of the people was just fantastic. The spirit was phenomenal.”
Originally involved in Smokers Unite SA, a group that protested the sale against the ban of cigarette sales last year, Wilson said there was a momentum among South Africans that couldn’t be stopped. “Immediately there was this response and traction,” he explained. “We formed groups after that. The groups I’m with, we had basically built this infrastructure and support from the original group.
Wilson added: “It wasn’t me. It was taking this avalanche and steering it the way that it’s going. The people spoke today and when I left, they were still swimming. I hope they go back tomorrow (Sunday).”
SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa said Public Order Police had been dispatched in response to the crowd at Muizenberg. “On arrival, the police observed the situation and issued a warning to the group,” Potelwa said. “Taking into account a number of variables, police monitored the situation for some time from a distance. After careful consideration of the situation at hand, the unit members peacefully removed the crowd from the beach with no incidents reported.”
Potelwa added: “Except for a few people who showed up on Camps Bay beach, no further incidents were reported elsewhere in Cape Town. Police continue to keep an eye on public spaces including beaches.”
Southern Cape police spokesperson Captain Malcolm Pojie said Plettenberg Bay Police had arrested a 24-year old local man following an altercation at Central Beach after not wearing a mask. “The suspect faces a Charge of Contravention of the Disaster Management Act,” Pojie said. “He will be processed and released on a warning to appear in in the Plettenberg Bay magistrates' court on Monday, 01 February 2021.”
Appealing to protesters at Plettenberg Bay beach, Chief of Bitou Law Enforcement Siyasanga Vandala said: “We are given instructions by the municipality. The municipality has taken the mandate from the provincial government and the national government. You know we enjoy being here at the beach. We would like you to be here, but for the past year we have been protecting you and working together. We have a mandate to close the beaches. We are given instructions and we have to adhere to those instructions.”
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde noted the protests. “I have always said that beaches and parks should not have been closed,” he said. “I have also said that the municipalities can manage the beaches so that they don’t become spreader events.”
Winde added he would be raising the issue of closed beaches and parks again at the President’s Co-ordinating Council, taking place today.